From a language point of view, it is estimated that over 70% of the Hispanic households speak Spanish at home as their primary form of communications. This takes into account second and third generation Hispanics that have lived their entire life in the United States. Hence, from a cultural standpoint, the Spanish language continues to be an important form of communication even for those considered to be U.S. natives.
While the importance of the Hispanic segment is more than evident, the difficult task still remains of how to communicate with this segment effectively. To find the answer, it is important to take a step back and look at what exactly is a “Hispanic.” This is especially important from a language perspective, as Hispanics are a mix of many nationalities. The term Hispanic was first coined by the U.S. Census to try to classify the Latin Americans living in the U.S. This is important because Latin American Spanish is starkly different from Spanish from Spain. Spaniards conjugate verbs differently, in particular through their use of “vosotros.” Verb conjugation associated with the pronoun “vosotros” is not used in Latin America and would generate a negative reaction by Hispanics.
“Hispanic” Spanish is more of a mix of dialects and cultures from over 20 countries in Latin America and, linguistically speaking, requires special attention. To add to the complexity, U.S. media sources, including traditional U.S. media in English as well as leading U.S. Spanish media companies such as Univision, Telemundo and CNN “en Español” have an important influence on Hispanic Spanish.
All of these considerations need to be taking into account when translating for the Hispanic Market. Companies that use content for the Spanish (Spain) market are making a grave marketing mistake as Hispanics respond more to Spanish spoken in Latin American countries. Mexico and Central American countries in particular have a strong influence due to their proximity to the United States and their influence on the media in the United States.
United States Spanish Translation
Now, while it may appear that the use of Latin American Spanish is the solution to reaching the Hispanic market, further discussion is necessary. Due to the concentration of South Americans vs. Mexicans or Central Americans in certain cities in the US, it is sometimes necessary to tailor content even further in order to address a particular region. For example, the Hispanic Spanish spoken in New York is very different from the Hispanic Spanish spoken in the Los Angeles. Hispanics living in Los Angeles and Houston have a stronger Mexican influence while there are more Hispanics in New York that have roots in Puerto Rico and South America. In fact, it has been found that marketing campaigns targeted to Hispanics in New York are not as effective as in other areas of the U.S. This is due in part to cultural reasons, but is also directly related to language issues.
Translations for the United States
No company in their right mind would use content from England to target Americans. Why should Spanish for the U.S. Hispanic be any different, especially given the size and importance of the market in terms of purchasing power?
This does not even fully address the importance of critical safety, health, legal, public service and government related communications. Correct translations can mean the difference between life and death in some instances. While some would like to ignore the need for quality Spanish translations in the U.S. and would rather see English as the “official” language, the overwhelming reality is that Hispanic Spanish is relied upon by millions to live their daily lives. Ignoring this fact would be socially, not to mention, economically irresponsible for any institution functioning in the U.S.